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Perfect Edition

is an aspirational name for this project, which aims to provide a lean, fast-loading web e-book template with a kind of definitive sturdiness. (I first encountered the term "perfect edition" in the world of manga. I haven't been able to confirm this etymology, but I think it comes from the use of a perfect paperback binding.)

Animated demo of the template

You can see a live, current-ish demo of the template here.

I present many of the short stories on my website in an even more minimal version of this template that is currently the locus of most of my fiddling.

What it is

  • a web e-book template that works in modern browsers
  • a tool to generate a nice web edition and robust EPUB edition from the same text
  • suitable for fiction and other straight-through prose

What it's not

  • a content management system
  • a plugin for larger frameworks
  • suitable for complex layouts and "textbook-like" projects

Goals and principles

I started designing and coding this template because I wasn't satisfied with the other options I found, all of which seemed to offer either too little or too much for my purposes. (I am a fiction writer.)

I imagined a web e-book that was paged, selectable, lightweight, and typographically perfect.

Paged: This is 100% my opinion, but I believe the side-to-side paged experience communicates something important about what you're reading, and maybe why you're reading it. That's probably not intrinsic; instead, it has to do with all the associations built up over time, the feelings it triggers. I think those things are important! This, for me, was non-negotiable.

Selectable: In a browser, a reader should always be free to search for, select, and copy text anywhere in the book, all using the browser's native tools.

Lightweight: I mean that both in terms of (1) the e-book's underlying code, so it's possible for one person to "hold it all in their head," and (2) its performance in the browser. It should load instantly and respond without any lag, ever.

Typographically perfect: It's amazing what CSS can do these days! A web e-book should at least aspire to typesetting on the level of the best print books.

In addition, there's one important "non-goal," which is support for legacy browsers or, indeed, any browsers that don't offer new-ish CSS functions like calc() and clamp(). This choice is what made it possible for me to contemplate building this at all, and I am sticking to it in the project's public phase.

Thanks

This project was made possible by 1022 patrons who supported the release of my novella Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate. The lo-fi crowdfunding campaign ran for just one week; after it reached its goal, the novella's web edition along with the code underpinning it---this project---became public goods. Thank you, patrons!

How to work with this template

You need a computer with Ruby 2.6 or above and a modern browser.

This project uses a source directory and a build directory. The source directory contains both the e-book template and the e-book text, which is stored in Markdown format.

In the Markdown text, chapters are marked with h2 tags and full-page "intertitles" are h1s. There is no special styling for blockquotes, lists, or really anything other than paragraph text. This will improve over time---maybe with your help!

After you clone the project, cd into the directory and run:

bundle install
ruby serve.rb

That will

  1. combine the text with the template to generate a finished e-book in a new build directory, and
  2. serve that finished e-book, which you can view at http://localhost:8000/.

(The script also generates an EPUB edition, which really isn't the focus of this project, but a feature I needed, so there you go!)

To swap out the text, provide your own Markdown file and then edit book.yaml. The values there are mostly self-explanatory, and those that aren't probably need to be dropped or replaced.

The serve.rb script watches the entire source directory and, whenever you make a change, regenerates the e-book.

If you'd like to generate the e-book without starting a web server, you can just run ruby generate.rb.

I think it's important to say: It is my expectation that this template will be most useful to others not as-is, but instead as a starting point for specific, bespoke designs. Print books are diverse; that's what makes them great. I think web e-books should be diverse, too. So, even though I've been calling this a template, I hope it works more as a springboard, or even just a source of code snippets.

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A lightweight, responsive web e-book template

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